Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Colored Pencils Used in First Space Sketch


A few random Russian colored pencils in my collection. They are unlikely to have been used in space.

As a colored pencil historian and all-around colored pencil geek, I am chagrined to admit that I did not know this amazing historical fact until just recently: The very first drawing ever done from space was made with colored pencils! And made from direct observation, it is technically an urban sketch! How did I not know this before??!

On March 18, 1965, Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, the first human to walk in space, sketched the sunrise. Reports The Guardian nearly seven years ago, his colored pencil drawing was among 150 artifacts displayed at London’s Science Museum that year. (I was tempted to steal the image for this post, but I resisted. Go look at the image in the article now!) Quoting curator Natalia Sidlina, the article discusses the problems of trying to sketch in a space craft:

“Then there is the fact that the craft was designed for one person but contained two. And the problem of using pencils and paper in zero gravity. ‘You can imagine it being a bit of a nightmare … but he wanted to stop the time and share this moment with other people.’. . . Leonov went on to draw portraits of his colleagues while in space and views of the Earth.” 

See – a true urban sketcher! And here’s the part that tickles me even more:

“The pencils were adapted to deal with weightlessness – though not in a particularly hi-tech way. A rubber wristband was attached to the packet and individual threads to each of the pencils.”

As all urban sketchers do, Leonov hacked his sketch kit to meet his particular sketching needs! Be still my heart!

Although the drawing was in the exhibit, the article doesn’t say whether the colored pencils were also displayed. The photo on a sold item on Etsy shows the box more clearly. The word in the center of the box translates as “Tactics,” and the illustration implies that they are mapping pencils (a common use for colored pencils back then).

I do have a small random handful of vintage Russian colored pencils (top of post), which I immediately examined to see if any had the same name, but alas, they do not. The Grail hunt is on for a set of vintage pencils like the ones Leonov used in space!

This article has more about Leonov’s space experience. Many thanks to blog reader Veronica for bringing this historic colored pencil sketch to my attention!


  1. I love this article and plan to share it on the NYC Urban Sketcher's FB page. Thanks for sharing the information. How cool!

    1. Right??! I can't believe I am only just now learning about it!

  2. I missed this when first published! What an interesting post.

    I remember Scott Kelly mentioning he wished the watercolor kit that had been on ISS was still there. I really wonder how one uses it in zero gravity?!

    1. I was hoping you'd find this post interesting! I can't imagine trying to use watercolors in zero gravity... pencils would be hard enough!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...